|Ryan Hillier, who went through some tough workouts at the Rangers' Prospect Development Camp in June, is focused on improving his strength and conditioning to prepare for pro hockey.
Players selected outside the first two rounds of the NHL Entry Draft often raise their stock by raising their game in the following season. In 2006-07, one Rangers prospect who really made a case for his NHL potential was 2006 third-round pick Ryan Hillier
After an admittedly slow start with his hometown Halifax Mooseheads, Hillier finished with a flurry to become one of the most dangerous two-way players in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Hillier, 19, will be one of 23 players on the Rangers roster for the upcoming Traverse City Prospects Tournament, which opens next Friday in Traverse City, Mich. It's his second trip to this event. When he returns, he'll join the Rangers' main training camp at the MSG Training Center in Westchester.
"Ryan's a year older, more mature and stronger," said Rangers Head Coach Tom Renney. "He is a very determined player. He skates, goes to the net hard, and has real good work habits."
Hillier finished the 2006-07 season with 32 goals and 27 assists for 59 points, along with 79 penalty minutes while appearing in 70 games. He ranked second on the Mooseheads in goals and points, while leading the team with 14 power-play goals and a whopping 229 shots on goal.
Apart from the goal differential, Hillier's 2006-07 season was similar to his 2005-06 campaign, when he notched 19 goals and 38 assists for 57 points along with 76 penalty minutes in 68 games. However, the most significant stats Hillier improved were his numbers the postseason. In 2006, he skated in 11 QMJHL playoff games, tallying two goals and two assists for four points and 12 penalty minutes. A year later and a more, mature Hillier more than doubled his output, notching three goals and six assists for nine points and 20 penalty minutes in 12 games.
The winger also came through with a clutch performance in Game 4 of the Mooseheads' second-round series against the eventual champion Lewiston MAINE-iacs, notching an assist with less than four minutes to go in the third period, and later burying the game-winner early in the overtime.
"The highlight of the season by far was my OT winner vs. Lewiston in the playoffs," Hillier said. "We were the only team to beat them in the playoffs, so it was nice."
Rangers Assistant Coach Mike Pelino is thrilled with the young winger's development.
"I think Ryan Hiller has really made some great steps in his development and improvement from when I first saw him," said Pelino, who worked with Hillier at this summer's Rangers Prospect Development Camp. "That is really encouraging. Who knows to what level he can get to, but he's a hard-working guy, a grinding type player and has got some offensive ability. But I think his specialty will be in that all-around, checking and grinding type role.”
Renney and Pelino were not the only ones who took notice of Hillier's strong junior season, as he appeared in two games with Team QMJHL in last year's ADT Canada-Russia Challenge, recording one goal.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder has a tremendous passion for the game and compares himself to a rather unique player in the NHL.
"I like Shawn Horcoff a lot up in Edmonton," he said. "I think we play a very similar game. I think I play a little like a Mike Modano as well. They are both people who are fast and strong with the puck."
While Hillier believes he already is strong on the puck, he recognizes that he needs to hit the weights more to reach the NHL.
"I think I have good hockey sense and speed, but I know I need more strength," he said. "Still, I think everyone needs to improve that, so I am not worried."
The Rangers coaches aren't worried either.
"Ryan just has to keep playing and maturing as a young player in our system," said Renney. "I think once he's able to see what he can do this year as a more veteran player going back to the Q, I think we'll see his confidence really soar and then that will really make a difference for himself."